SYNOPSIS: Director Todd Phillips JOKER centers around the iconic arch nemesis and is an original, standalone fictional story not seen before on the big screen. Phillips’ exploration of Arthur Fleck, who is indelibly portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix, is of a man struggling to find his way in Gotham’s fractured society. A clown-for-hire by day, he aspires to be a stand-up comic at night…but finds the joke always seems to be on him. Caught in a cyclical existence between apathy and cruelty, Arthur makes one bad decision that brings about a chain reaction of escalating events in this gritty character study.
AUTHOR/EDITOR’S NOTE: This review contains no major plot spoilers and anything that’s not already public knowledge (via cast interviews, articles, trailers, etc.) about JOKER. However, if you don’t want to know anything about the film prior to seeing it, you may want to skip to the bottom and simply see my grade. – Jett
There was no vat of chemicals and he isn’t permawhite. Nor was he once a bank robber known as The Red Hood. And there’s no Batman to fight.
But what can be said Joaquin Phoenix’s character — “Arthur Fleck” (there’s a reason I’m using italics around words or phrases in this review, FYI) — in director Todd Phillips’ JOKER, is that this IS The Joker, period.
Or is he? (Don’t assume what I mean here.)
I’m not going to spend much time rehashing the plot as I’m quite sure you’re already familiar with it. But in short, Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) is a nobody with severe mental health issues. He lives with — and takes care of — his mother Penny (Francis Conroy) in a ratty apartment in Gotham City. He works as a clown for hire and dreams of being a standup comedian and making it big.
After being fired from his gig as a clown for bringing a gun (not his) to a children’s hospital, things very quickly begin to spiral out of control for Arthur.
Or do they? (Again, don’t assume.)
While on the subway heading back home after being fired, Arthur kills three uppity, Wall Street-type young men/assholes who attempt to beat him up.
Arthur is mad as hell and isn’t going to take it anymore!
This is the core of the film, but there are also a couple of subplots that are very important to the narrative as well:
Penny’s obsession with Thomas Wayne (Bret Cullen). Is there or is there a not a “connection” between herself and her son and Wayne? (And for the record, Thomas Wayne isn’t a very nice or good dude.)
Arthur’s “romance” with his neighbor Sophie (Zazie Beetz). AND…
Arthur’s admiration for Murray Franklin (Robert De Nero), the host of Gotham’s most popular late-night talk show, LIVE WITH MURRAY FRANKLIN.
The murders (at the hands of Arthur) of three of Gotham’s elite brings about a movement — albeit a violent one — against “The Man” of Gotham because the common folk of the city are also mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore. The people take to the streets sporting clown masks, rage against the machine, and Arthur is their hero.
Or is he?
That’s it when it comes to me revealing anything else about the plot and how JOKER plays out other than to say that things don’t end well for just about everyone I mentioned.
Joaquin Phoenix simply disappears into the role of Arthur. Yes, we feel bad for him at times, but when he starts to “gain control of his life,” our empathy for him quickly dissipates.
Phoenix uses every single tool in his thespian toolbelt while portraying Arthur — including losing allegedly about 50 pounds to look emaciated, and more importantly, hollow.
And when he turns into The Joker, every single thing about him changes. He stands up straight with his shoulders back and walks — no, actually dances — gracefully and full of confidence. There’s a stark difference between Arthur and The Joker.
This is an Oscar-worthy performance, make no mistake about it.
The great thing about JOKER for me is its ambiguity. A lot of this film can (and will trust me) be interpreted differently from one person to the next. We’ll be talking about and debating JOKER for years to come I suspect and that’s the mark of a brilliant film.
Yeah, I’m going to say it: JOKER is a masterpiece and will affect the genre just as much as THE DARK KNIGHT did (and still DOES) a decade ago.
You are sure as hell ain’t gonna walk out of JOKER feeling good. If you’re like me, you’re going to be a bit speechless and will need time to decompress.
More of this type of “comic book movies,” please. – Bill “Jett” Ramey